I think I preferred this series back when it was on the verge of becoming a trainwreck. Even if “Ajin” was preparing to go off the rails at any moment, there was fun and excitement at the thought of seeing it happen. This is compared to the series as it is now which is fairly generic when the bullets and body parts aren’t flying. Take the sudden change of heart Sato’s right-hand-man, Tanaka, displays towards two female characters in this volume. After taking down Izumi and revealing her to be a demi-human in the process, he goes back to kill the witnesses and smash their cellphones. Later, he winds up saving the secretary who oversaw his torture while he was in the hands of the government. Why would he do either of these things? Because that’s what characters like him -- subordinates to the main antagonist who are starting to have second thoughts about their line of work -- do in these stories. Some characters do die in this volume. I’m not sure that anyone will be bothered to care since one of them didn’t have a name in the dramatis personae at the front of the volume and the only one that has had a decent amount of page time goes out in a predictably tragic and manly way.
Is there anything about this volume which rises above mere competence? Well, the action scenes are as slick as always and some interesting tricks regarding how demi-humans can use their regenerative abilities and IBMs are shown off here. Everything else is straight out of the genre playbook. Which means that while I know I’m not supposed to have any sympathy for a psycho killer like Sato he still remains the most interesting character in the series because he’s committed to his cause and clearly enjoying himself in the process. When he offers to cut off Kei’s head in order to get our protagonist to utilize his powers in more creative ways, I was actually kinda rooting for it to happen. If nothing else it would’ve saved us from the painfully generic verbal throwdown Kei has with Ko about leaving that closes out this volume and arc. Things are left fairly wide open with regards to where the narrative could go from here. At this point, I feel somewhat confident in guessing that “anywhere interesting” won’t be one of those places.
I was awaiting this volume with one big expectation. After all, Mike Mignola provided an end to “Hellboy’s” saga last year, and delivered the final proper volume of “Abe Sapien” leaving “B.P.R.D.” to be the only title to advance the ongoing story of the Mignolaverse. With word that it would be coming to an end as well, I was expecting this to provide the finale for this vast, weird, and thrilling universe created by Mignola. We’ve even been told what to expect: With this age of man coming to an end it’s down to the members of the B.P.R.D. to fight for the best of mankind’s essence to pass over into the next age. More than anything else, that’s what I wanted to see in this volume!
However, if you’ve been paying attention to the solicitations from Dark Horse you’ll know that there’s a new “B.P.R.D.” series called “The Devil You Know” starting in the next month or two. It’s not a flashback or anything as the solicitation text made it clear that it’s following up on the aftermath of the story in this volume. I was… disappointed to learn that as it meant “Cometh the Hour” wasn’t going to deliver on what I wanted to see here.
I want to like this series more than I actually do. The setup of Superman being a new father is neat, I like his new son Jon, and we get to see the two of them go on adventures where dad can be as big a damn hero as he wants. Whether it’s foiling some small-time robbers at the local county fair, escaping from Dinosaur Island with the last of the Losers, or helping Frankenstein and The Bride capture an intergalactic fugitive, these stories feel tailor-made for Superman to handle.
As far as getting an actual superhero story about Miles Morales’ adventures in the Marvel Universe, this volume is a step in the right direction. The main issue here is that “Miles Negotiates the Fallout From ‘Civil War II’” isn’t really a proper story. It starts off with our protagonist getting a call from Tony Stark to talk about the new Inhuman who can see the future through a precognitive version of profiling. The narrative then goes on to touch upon a couple key events of the crossover while also weaving in story threads from the previous volume. It makes for a choppy read where everything is pretty much defined by how the characters are reacting to events that are happening outside of the series.
It’s a testament to the solid character work from Bendis that this winds up being less of an issue than I’m making it sound. Taking in the characters’ discussion of these events, whether it’s Miles coming to his dad about whether to join Stark’s side or not, or Miles’ Mom trying to find out what Jessica Jones knows about her son, the characters’ actions and emotions feel genuine and relatable. Actually, all of the cast has something worthwhile to contribute to Miles’ struggle, from regular supporting cast members Ganke and Fabio “Goldballs” Medina” to guest-star Ms. Marvel. So when they all come together in the next-to-last story to help Miles come to grips with his showdown in D.C. with Captains America and Marvel, and Iron Man it winds up being cathartic and heartwarming in all the right ways.
Another reason all the character drama works so well is because the artist illustrating most of it, Nico Leon, has a really appealing style. Leon has a style that at once appears effortlessly grounded, but also allows for enough exaggeration to make the characters’ actions lively along with the action. Sara Pichelli returns for the final story, a one-off detailing the new complications in Miles’ dad Jefferson’s life now that he’s back working for S.H.I.E.L.D. It’s a solid piece of work that shows, when he puts his mind to it, Bendis can take a familiar setup from another (spy) genre and make it effortlessly work within the context of the Marvel Universe. Overall, this volume shows that even if we’re still left waiting for a proper superhero story about Miles’ adventures in this universe, having him talk through his issues with friends and family is a setup for a good read nonetheless.
A strain of bitter cynicism flows through all of Warren Ellis’ work for Marvel. Usually this manifests as characters openly mocking superhero conventions while expressing their friendly contempt for their comrades-in-tights. When done right, this can enliven familiar setups as seen in “Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E.” Applied incorrectly and you get a strained superhero bitch-fest like “Avengers: Endless Wartime" that makes you wonder how these people can function as a team at all. Ellis “Karnak” miniseries is probably the first time this bitter cynicism has been the whole point of the exercise. We’re introduced to the Inhuman who trained himself to see the flaw in all things contemplating a stone cube and telling his students at the Tower of Wisdom that they are no better than these stones before he’s whisked off to a S.H.I.E.L.D. outpost in the North Atlantic. It turns out that a teenager who has recently undergone terrigenesis was kidnapped by an A.I.M. splinter group. Karnak agrees to get the kid back for a million-dollar fee from S.H.I.E.L.D. and, from the parents, the single thing which allows them to believe that the universe is a kind and wonderful place.
That should give you a pretty good idea of the kind of person we’re dealing with here. Ellis paints a picture of a man who was born without any gifts, denied the chance to change through terrigenesis, and then spent the rest of his life learning how to break things and bring everyone down to his level. Make no mistake, this is a vicious and mean-spirited book to read but that actually makes it feel somewhat refreshing compared to most other Marvel comics. It works because that approach fits with the character of Karnak as established here and isn’t just doing these things for the sake of doing them. The writer’s approach is also distractingly on-the-nose at some points, though his random bits of nastiness don’t feel as out-of-place as they have in his previous Marvel work. Gerardo Zaffino and Roland Boschi provide some effectively warped artwork that further makes this not a book for everyone, but one that I found to be an interesting portrait of a person who exploits the flaws in others because he doesn’t want a better life for himself than that.
I went into this volume with high hopes regarding the promised origin of Principal Gakuho Asano. What turned this once-caring educator into the ruthless victory-at-any-cost authoritarian that we’ve come to know in this series? As it turns out, the reason why is pretty straightforward: He felt responsible for the death of a student and changed his methods in the hope of preventing it from happening again. This is all explained in the first chapter so Asano’s origin doesn’t wind up being as epic or exciting as I was expecting. The wrap-up of the current arc in the next chapter is also free of surprises, though I did appreciate seeing how Koro-sensei manages to connect with the principal using his compassion. Superman would definitely approve, even if this doesn’t necessarily take Asano off the board as an antagonist. If anything, I expect we’ll see him back in another volume or two ready to beat the tentacled teacher on his own terms. Maybe even without the dirty tricks.
While the opening to vol. 15 was something of a letdown, the rest of it is anything but. mangaka Yusei Matsui kicks the narrative into high gear with a series of surprise revelations. It turns out that one of the students has been a secret assassin since the very start of the series! This revelation does threaten to run up against one’s suspension of disbelief, particularly when you consider that this student has always been one of the more well-adjusted and upbeat ones. What saves is that Matsui commits to it fully by further revealing that not only does this student have a very personal connection to the (deceased) teacher that started Koro-sensei on his career, but they have a special and familiar weapon at their disposal to help take him out.
The fight that ensues is as crazy as anything the series has done, only with some gripping emotional stakes thrown in as well. Even if it all ends for the best -- if you’re expecting otherwise, why are you reading a Jump manga -- the stage is set for the reveal of the title’s most important origin of all: Koro-sensei’s! Though the lead-in does kind of ruin my ongoing analogy of this series being a really good “Superman” story, it still promises to be everything that Asano’s was not. At least, it had better be consider how key Koro-sensei’s origin is going to wind up being to the series as a whole!
The previous volume was my pick for best comic of 2016 for these reasons: It took a storyline that I wasn’t quite sure about -- Negan escaping and falling in with the Whisperers -- and managed to get some quality material out of it. Then it served up a final-page twist that I did not see coming and still made perfect sense given what had come before. Following up something like that is a tall order by any standard. Then you toss in the fact that this is the first major “War” storyline to come after the epic two-volume “All-Out War” arc and the expectations become even higher. Oh, and there’s that nagging feeling that after Rick and company came out ahead in the last war they’re due for a loss here. That’s a lot of baggage to deal with. Fortunately for us, Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard are well aware of all this and try their damndest to mix things up as best they can here.
For the first major Bat-crossover of the “Rebirth” era the creators involved are going all Kaiju Big Battle on us. While the entire Bat-team is getting ready to provide emergency assistance to Gotham as a hurricane bears down on the city things take a turn for the crazy when a giant monster starts barrelling down the streets. It turns out not to be the only one and the team’s efforts are now split between fighting the monster menace and evacuating the citizens in their way. Things get worse when the monsters are revealed to have regenerative/mutative properties and be just the tiniest bit contagious, while a lichen in the evacuation cave starts to cause everyone inside to riot. Taken together all of this starts to come off as more than a little… Strange?
“Night of the Monster Men” is a propulsive event that barrels through its six issues at a breakneck pace. It’s mainly the work of writer Steve Orlando, who scripted the event and co-plotted it with regular “Batman,” “Detective Comics,” and “Nightwing” writers Tom King, James Tynion IV, and Tim Seeley. That this is mainly coming from one writer is probably the main reason it reads so cohesively and is able to keep up its momentum to the end. Even so, Batman and company vs. Giant Monsters isn’t exactly a new idea and the story is so focused on the action that it doesn’t have time for any memorable character moments. There is an interesting idea about how the monsters represent the main antagonist’s diagnosis of Batman’s personality which manages to save the story from being a completely mindless thrill ride.
The art, from Riley Rossmo, Roge Antonio, and Andy MacDonald is generally solid with all three showing that they can deliver some impressive-looking monsters. Rossmo is the standout as his wiry style is appreciatively unconventional next to the other two artists here. This event also isn’t quite stand-alone as it involves certain characters and references specific events from the most recent volumes of “Batman” and “Detective Comics.” So if you’re like me and reading both of those titles then this one is basically a necessary read. It’s not a bad one, but I can’t say it has much appeal for anyone who isn’t already involved.
Greg Rucka’s consistently entertaining, consistently overpriced shaggy-dog P.I. reaches its fourth volume. This time around, Dexedrine Parios’ life takes a turn for the absurd but not ridiculous. She’s hired by Mr. Weeks, a rich coffee enthusiast and maker, to deliver the first pound of his inaugural batch of Wild Thai Civet coffee to him after it’s flown into town. Why Dex? Because she has a rep for being able to get the job done and Mr. Weeks doesn’t want to attract too much attention to his coffee. This pound of coffee has a street value of $25K after all. Of course, since this is Dex we’re talking about the complications soon start to pile up. Whether it’s the oddly quiet and formal henchman of Mr. Weeks’ main rival who offers to pay Dex in gold for a sample of this coffee, or members of the Barista Mafia who want in on the action themselves, or the arrival of Fuji, Dex’s ne’er-do-well sister, in town, this simple job of being a coffee delivery person may wind up being more trouble than she asked for.
Some might think that all this fuss over coffee makes for a story that’s too ridiculous to take seriously, but Rucka and artist Justin Greenwood make it work. The absurdity is tackled head-on in the opening scenes as Mr. Weeks explains why all this is important to him and Dex acts as the reader’s stand-in to put his desires in perspective. Her reaction upon finding out how Wild Thai Civet coffee is made is priceless and a high point of the volume. While this all keeps threatening to tip over into farce, it never quite does because everyone in the story -- even the Barista Mafia -- is operating from well-grounded and established desires. Pun intended. The fact that this story, and series, is set in Portland also helps with the suspension of disbelief in this regard too.
We also get some more insight into Dex’s history and family life through her sister. Fuji may be family, but it was refreshing to see our protagonist call her sister out on all the crap she pulls here. Particularly in regards to Ansel as we find out exactly why Dex is her brother’s keeper. The volume is rounded out with a mostly silent surveillance story that has a neat twist at the end. It’s a great showcase for Greenwood’s storytelling skills as he effectively conveys the necessary information clearly and with a sense of fun too. While it’s impressive that his loose style works as well as it does on a sci-fi series like “The Fuse,” “Stumptown” is a more natural fit for his talents. Though this series is still horrifically overpriced at $30 for each hardcover volume, it still provides a quality read for those willing to take the plunge (or patient enough to pick it up at a deep discount).